The band was formed by Hungarian musician Tamás Kátai. In their early years, the band started off as an "Avantgarde post-black metal project". As time progressed, they left most of their traditional black metal influences behind and set out on a new musical journey. Mastermind Tamás Kátai has continuously delivered complex music pieces that keep on impressing the listeners. His ninth album “Naiv” was inspired by the Naiv Art Movement and is as amazing as his previous works. We had the pleasure of discussing it with Tamás Kátai.
Thy Catafalque originally emerged as a black metal band but have evolved a lot ever since the debut album in 1999. What’s the main difference between Thy Catafalque in 1999 and Thy Catafalque 21 years later?
The technical difference is that we started as a two-piece band with my friend János and, now, it’s only me with various guest musicians. Of course, regardless of the members, the music and the approach has also changed as it is natural after more than twenty years. We still have black metal elements but they are just one piece in the picture now. But, anyway, if you listen to our first album it had a lot of stuff besides black metal there already so I guess we liked to experiment from day one.
Thy Catafalque’s ninth full-length album entitled “Naiv” was inspired by the “Naive Art” movement. Why has this movement captivated you?
I find our roots and motivation similar, that’s why I chose this title for the album.
According to you, “Naïve artists have no formal training and education and they lack the professional and conventional approach of trained artists and their art is recognized for their childlike nature and frankness”… what’s the connection between the Naïve artists and Thy Catafalque?
Exactly what you have just mentioned – I have never studied music (sadly enough) and I don’t follow the conventional path when creating music. Also, childhood memories have a great role in Thy Catafalque.
“Naiv” vacillates between heavier and quieter moments, using folk and rock elements alongside black metal heaviness and such diverse genres as ambient, folklore, jazz, metal, electronica, rock, pop, wave. How do you come up with these ideas of mixing such different genres and styles?
I just don’t use the handbook many bands are using for their music. I don’t have much respect for stylistic rules, I have always been thinking leftfield in this aspect so it doesn’t bother me to use completely unusual elements if, and only if, the music and the lyrics justify them. It’s very important though that I don’t just throw everything in, the songs must be songs, there must a storyline, there must a reasoning behind everything that happens in a song.
“Naiv” is the shortest and probably the least heavy album in the catalogue however there are 11 friends contributing on plenty of exciting instruments. Care to tell us more about them?
Yes, many of them have been contributing many times to Thy Catafalque. Martina Horváth is singing again after Geometria, she’s fantastic and a very good friend of mine, it’s really a pleasure to work with her. Gyula Vasvári from Perihelion is also here for the third time. Zoltán Kónya and Balázs Hermann (now on fretless bass) are from my old band, Gire, I’ve been playing with them for decades. Vajk Kobza plays on oud. Gábor Drótos from Gutted, great death metal band plays here on cello, viola, violin and classical guitar. Zoltán Pál from Sear Bliss on trombone. Sándor Szabó on quena. Marilú Theologiti on cello. Péter Jelasity on saxophone and P. W. Hermann is doing some minor narration now.
How did the collaboration work out? Did you meet up or was everything done online?
90 percent online. We recorded the quena and the narration at my place, the rest of the guests sent me their recordings and I edited everything at home.
Do you give your guests artistic freedom or do you give them specific instructions about what you want?
Most of the time there is a general idea and the musicians have their takes. They know better what they are capable of and what sounds properly and it’s more exciting for them, for me and for the audience as well if they go free.
This time around you have Martina Horváth and Gyula Vasvári again on vocals. How important are vocals in the songs? Why are all songs sung in your native tongue and not English? Doesn’t it make it harder for you to reach new listeners, considering they might not understand the message? Or do you believe the melody is the key word here?
The key word here is self-expression. My mother language is Hungarian so, obviously, the best way I can express myself is in Hungarian. Of course, we would reach a much wider audience using English but I wouldn’t feel myself confident performing in English, even though I speak the language and I am also a British citizen myself but still, it just doesn’t feel natural for me. So, the choice was simple. Our first two albums were in English though and then came a point where I realized I didn’t have to do this, it felt dishonest and awkward.
Vocals are part of the music of course, they are important. We always had many instrumental songs but when you have cool vocals it adds another dimension to the image.
The songs in this album are shorter than usual… how do you decide how long a song should be?
You reach a point when you feel it’s done now. I think recently I prefer shorter songs, I used to overcook tracks sometimes. Nowadays I like to compose short and focused. This is changing, probably next time I return to the epic proportions again, I really have no clue.
How does the songwriting happen? How do the ideas come up? Do you put them all down on paper or only the ones you think are good enough? Do these ideas have anything to do your personal life, problems or whatever at that moment in time? Could you mention some topics which are included in the lyrics? Have you ever dreamt of a lyric or parts of it and turned it into a song later on?
I sit down, start playing the guitar or the keyboards and after a while something interesting might pop up or not. Many times it doesn’t but if it happens, I record it right away and then try to work around the idea. When there is a certain amount of material, it’s time to think about the concept of the song – which direction should I head for. This is when the lyrics come in and then the song basically forms itself. The exciting part starts here. Of course, my personal life and feelings reflect in the music, sure thing. My lyrics are not very obvious and clear though. I was growing up reading classic Hungarian poetry and not metal lyrics so they are more symbolic and obscure probably but that’s the way I express myself. Unfortunately, I rarely remember any of my dreams so that’s not a source of inspiration in my case.
The new songs include the violin, viola, cello, oud, citera, trombone, saxophone, quena and fretless bass. How do you know where to use each instrument? How do you know where it fits better?
It’s pure intuition and play with the sounds. When writing a song, an idea pops up and I go like why not try out this or that? So, then, I am actively looking for someone playing that instrument. But with quena, for example, I saw an advertisement on Facebook about someone offering his home made quenas for sale, I contacted him and asked him to play something on top of one my tunes and then that song became absolutely different to what I had in mind before. These are great surprises and that’s why I like to work with other musicians. They broaden the horizon in ways I would not even expect.
The first song is kind of a traditional one, an easy, simple piece to start with. Why have you opted to use it?
The opening riff sounded like a good starter for an album and the lyrics start with the line “Back to the mountains and back to the olden woods” referring to older albums, Sgúrr and Rengeteg.
What were the main goals you wish to accomplish with this album?
To satisfy my hunger for creating, as always.
This album features the band’s first professionally shot music video… the video features Martina and someone doing a traditional Peruvian dance… how did you come up with the idea of doing this?
I thought it was time for a pro video after more than 20 years and for the ninth album so I was looking for a company producing videos and they suggested the area, which was the Bükk Mountains in North Hungary. I knew Juan Carlos before, he’s living in Budapest and as the song is about a hawk escaping from its ties to fly to the skies and it seemed to be an interesting addition to include him in his traditional bird costume dancing the story of the poem. The shooting took one day only and it was really the last nice day in Autumn last year, we had great time there.
The cover art was done by your partner Irene Saíz Guerrero. How did she come up with it? She listened to the songs and came up with that design or what? Does the cover reproduce visually the atmosphere of the new material? In what way?
My grandmother has a traditional Hungarian chest for clothes. They are called tulip chests or boxes because they are decorated with tulips and other floral motives. I realized something like this would make a great cover art so we started creating a very similar design but with addition of scientific elements to the natural ones. Science has always been a great part of the lyrical world of Thy Catafalque and it went pretty well with the traditional elements. Finally, we didn’t use the Hungarian colour palette for the art but the Russian khokhloma style so the painting has a sort of fictitious folklore atmosphere just like the music.
In your opinion, what’s the best atmosphere/place to fully appreciate the musical journey of “Naiv”?
Ideally just like all TC albums you’d listen to it in one go, as a whole. It’s composed that way. Also, probably it works the best when travelling, preferably by train.
It is known that you are usually the one responsible for the recording, mixing and mastering of your albums. Isn’t it an extra burden on your shoulders? Why don’t you put this “pressure” on someone else? Besides, having someone doing that might give you a different perspective on your music…
The way I put together the songs is very chaotic and it’s not the traditional mixing style so it’s just more comfortable for me the deal with it myself. Also, it’s practically for free. It’s very true that a different perspective would be beneficial and it has happened already that someone else did the final mastering and I have tried it before other times but, the thing is, I didn’t like the result. Not that I am satisfied with my mixing and mastering, very far from it, still I disliked some masters I asked for even more so I just do it myself, it’s ok.
I read that you think it is a battle to finish an album. You love it, but you want to get rid of it at the same time. How tired are you of the new album by now?
It depends anyway. I remember Sgúrr being a huge fight with myself but Geometria, for example, was pretty smooth. And Naiv went also neatly. I am not listening to my music much after I released them, I focus on the next one, so I’m not tired of them, I just leave them alone and let people listen to them.
In your opinion, what’s the best definition for your style considering all the musical ideas, heavy parts, extreme metal and all the other styles that have got nothing to do with metal?
It’s only music.
You’ve been working with Season of Mist ever since “Rengeteg”… do they give you complete freedom to create?
Absolutely. I have total creative freedom, never ever I was limited neither musically nor artistically. Everything has been approved and appreciated so whatever you hear and see is my sole responsibility.
Is Thy Catafalque a kind of therapy for you? Why do you feel the need to create so constantly? Is your mind hyperactive always thinking about new ideas to produce and create?
I have not thought about that. I like creating things, that’s an important part of my life for sure. But I don’t know what would happen if I stopped it, probably nothing. But anyway yes, my mind is always ready to absorb any new ideas for the next album.
How much impact does music have in your life? What would you like to be doing if you weren’t creating music? What would you be if you weren’t a musician?
You know, I have a real life and I work just like everyone else, I consider music as my hobby, a serious one but my life does not depend on it and I’d like to keep it that way. If for some reason I had to stop I’m sure I still would not be bored.
Any final words you’d like to share with our readers?
I would like to thank you very much for your interest in me and Thy Catafalque. Take care!
Interview by Sónia Fonseca